June is coming to its end and I realize I haven’t made any Pride-related posts (gasp!). I actually haven’t even been to Pride this year due to #BloodyCovid19. But it doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate it right here on The Empress Within.
You may or may not know that I am a proud, out-of-the-closet lipstick (or stiletto 💄👠) lesbian in a relationship with the #SexiestWomanInTheWorld.
Because I was born in the Middle-East (more precisely, Lebanon 🇱🇧) and raised Catholic, I could never really conceive the idea that one day I would be able to marry and build a family with a woman. I grew up thinking I would marry a nice Lebanese boy from a good (in other words, wealthy) Christian family that my own relatives would approve of.
I cannot think of any positive gay or lesbian role model I ever had growing up. All I was told was that gay and lesbian sex was disgusting and against nature, and that LGBT people were all drug addicts and had AIDS. And around that time, same-sex marriage was barely legal in two or three countries.
But in my late teens and early twenties, I realized that no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t feel much physical attraction to men, let alone develop serious feelings for them (despite still seeing beauty in some of them – cough cough, Sean Connery, Idriss Elba, Nikolaj Koster-Waldau, Daniel Craig, The Rock, etc). Crushing on women (aka falling head over stilettos in love with them), however, had never been an issue to me.
I came out of the closet progressively at 21, and while I’m grateful that the people who matter most to me made efforts to accept who I am, that wasn’t the hardest part.
I had to learn how to be assertive, and not feel pressured to label myself as bisexual, despite being on the feminine side of the spectrum. This meant facing rejection from women refusing to believe I was gay (unless I dressed completely androgynous and chopped off my hair, which I absolutely detested doing), and unwanted attention from men eager to “convert” me (this is why I have very few straight male friends at the moment).
I am lucky to have never faced blatant homophobia, but noticed early on that there was a very obvious double-standard in the way I was treated as a “feminine” lesbian. I was told by straight (or bi-curious) friends (not necessarily Lebanese or Middle-Eastern) that I didn’t need to advertise my sexual orientation, even when they mentioned their husbands and boyfriends every five seconds. I had to be available for anyone who wanted sex tips or even threesomes, but I was expected to keep my gayness private when people were trying to fix me up with their sons, brothers, or cousins. And I once had a friend pretend for months that she was supportive of me and even gave me relationship advice, only to drag me to a church service where she had members attempt to “pray the gay away” from me. Needless to say, I am still gay, and this person and I are no longer friends. All these experiences have taught me to be extremely cautious of who I let into my private circle.
It also took several unhealthy relationships, being cheated on, a failed engagement to an emotionally abusive woman, and a two-year hiatus from dating and love, to learn who I am, define exactly what I want in a relationship, and what my boundaries are.
Today, I have finally manifested the most amazing lady I could hope for. She shows me, on a daily basis, the respect, kindness, affection and unconditional love I sought for years, and I know I can trust her with my life. She also meets every single one of my criteria on my “perfect girlfriend” list (which I’ve had going for years!) and is totally wife material, and then some! Also, I am finally in a relationship where I can be myself and celebrate my femininity without having my sexual orientation questioned. In other words, I can keep my hair long, wear all the lipstick, stilettos and pencil skirts I want, and only get very appreciative comments in return!
Had I never been brought to America at fourteen (and subsequently obtaining U.S. citizenship), I would have probably stayed in the closet, and would be currently stuck in an unhappy marriage to a man. But coming to this country has given me the freedom to be who I am, and to distance myself from people who weren’t willing to respect my integrity and boundaries. Coming out of the closet has given me the confidence to speak up and assert myself in countless ways, even if I grew up being told to be meek, sweet, and borderline submissive. And while homosexuality is being slowly decriminalized in Lebanon (they even celebrate Pride in Beirut!), there’s a lot of progress to be made when it comes to LGBT rights.
But today, in my adoptive country, I know I can legally marry the woman I love. I’m not talking about a plain courthouse wedding, but a beautiful ceremony (with a big poofy dress!) at the Episcopal church we go to. (I will talk in a future post about this in more detail and how it fits with my spiritual beliefs).
I know that when we are ready to start a family, we will both have the same parental rights and authority as recognized by the state, regardless of who our children are biologically related to. After all, I know for a fact it isn’t blood or even giving birth that makes someone a parent, but love.
And lastly, as my business and platform grow, I hope to be a positive role model for Middle-Eastern and Arab LGBT people of all faiths and walks of life. I hope to use my voice to show them that it is possible to be a happy, healthy LGBT person. I acknowledge my privilege as an American citizen, and I hope that I am able to make enough changes so Arab and Middle-Eastern LGBT people will have an alternative to immigration, and will be able to live true, authentic lives in their own countries without having their safety compromised.
Finally, let me finish this post by reiterating that The Empress Within is and always will be a proudly LGBT-owned business and a safe, welcoming, and loving space for all LGBT+ people. We believe every ethnicity, faith, sexual identity and orientation is valid, and worthy of professionalism, respect, caring, and confidentiality. If you are LGBT, I am more than happy to guide you through your spiritual journey, especially if you’re not out of the closet yet and are struggling with your religious and/or spiritual beliefs. If you are Arab/Middle-Eastern, I can use my knowledge and understanding of your/our culture to help you best navigate your personal situation.
*I would have loved to remain Catholic, but the church still isn’t willing to move from its outdated views nor take responsibility for the harm it has inflicted on LGBT people throughout its existence.